Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jason Whitlock and the New KKK

Not generally being a fan of professional team sports, I was not familiar until recently with Jason Whitlock, who has become one of the most prominent black sports columnists in the United States. He writes for the Kansas City Star and AOL Sports. Considering the dearth of black people employed in professional journalism in this country this is quite an accomplishment, though Mr. Whitlock’s rise to prominence in the field of sports coverage, where his commentaries focus almost exclusively on black athletes, makes his “success” a little less surprising. It has long been common in the mainstream press for black voices that would otherwise be marginalized and ignored to be provided a prominent platform as long as they are saying what white people want to hear being said, especially about other black people.

Mr. Whitlock has built his career recently on his critiques of DBR behavior among black professional athletes, attacking Pro Basketball in particular for being too “gangsta,” “violent,” and “hip hop.” Mr. Whitlock was especially incensed by the this summer’s NBA All Star weekend in Las Vegas, which he compared to “the yard at a maximum security prison,” dominated by “the Black KKK,” that “Instead of wearing white robes and white hoods . . . has now taken to wearing white Ts and calling themselves gangsta rappers, gangbangers and posse members. Just like the White KKK of the 1940s and ‘50s, we fear them, keep our eyes lowered, shut our mouths and pray they don't bother us.” The recent murder of Washington Redskins player Sean Taylor has only increased the vociferousness of Mr. Whitlock’s attacks on this new “Black KKK.”

Considering his disdain for the vileness of DBR behavior and the violent degrading imagery common to so much of the music and culture that accompanies such behavior, I found Mr. Whitlock’s silence on the Dunbar Village incident absolutely deafening. It also surprised me to hear him defend Don Imus’ employment of that same degrading imagery and language to insult the Rutgers Women’s Basketball, stating simply that “A man who degrades himself wastes his time demanding respect from others.” I found this statement puzzling, since of course, the Rutgers Women are not men, and have done nothing to degrade themselves. Why then is it a “waste of their time” to demand respect? Mr. Whitlock insisted that “Imus isn’t the real bad guy,” and stated without an iota of proof that “I’m sure at least one of the marvelous young women on the Rutgers team is somewhere snapping her fingers to the beat of 50 Cent’s or Snoop Dogg’s or Young Jeezy’s latest ode glorifying nappy headed pimps and hos.”

Of course, this disconnect began to make sense when I learned that Mr. Whitlock had worked with, among other “gangsta rappers,” the 57th Street Rogue Dog Villains, and helped produce a Kansas City Chiefs theme song that’s performed by the very types Mr. Whitlock claims are ruining the black community. It also fit in neatly with his references to himself as “Big Sexy,” a “playa” who’s enjoyed the well-publicized hospitality of Hugh Hefner and the Girls Next Door—apparently, a white woman selling her ass deserves Mr. Whitlock’s grinning approbation, while a black woman scholar-athlete deserves to be freely insulted and scorned by any and all comers, regardless of how she conducts herself.

Mr. Whitlock is a perfect illustration of why DBRBM and the “new Black KKK” are not only to be found in white Ts, riding spinners. All too often, he is the self-described “educated brotha,” who “fears them, keep his eyes lowered, shut his mouths and prays they don't bother us” when confronted by thugs—but has plenty of courageous disdain for black women. He can snicker at other black men who “Bojangle” for a living, while he indulges in the ultimate minstrelsy: demeaning black women, leaving BW and children vulnerable and unprotected before predators, while he sits like a big black puppet mumbling a script for ESPN. Mr. Whitlock has nothing but contempt for “babymamas” but like any good “playa” there appears to be no Mrs. Whitlock on the horizon. Unlike Bill Cosby or Oprah, who have made similar complaints similar to Mr. Whitlock’s, he can point to nothing that he has offered those of our young people who are smart, hard-working, and committed to bettering themselves. Indeed, when a group of such young women were publicly attacked, he supported their attacker. He can attack DBRBM as cardboard cutout stereotypes that embody white fears, but he can’t get to the heart of the damage they inflict on the black community, because that might require that he look at men like himself, and the yawning void they have left in community, which the DBR have happily filled. Physician, heal thyself.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Unpopular Opinions

I've always felt that history is there for us to learn from, NOT, carry as a burden and I'm learning that unfortunately that's the case for many peoples of all backgrounds in the USofA. Saying that, what I'm missing from the black community on a large scale is wholesale acknowledgement of their own duplicity in the problems that are plaguing their communities. What whites think, shouldn't be a focus to excused the attitudes of so many under-achieved black people, but it seems they use this as a measuring stick, give up and, continue the annihilation cycle. Personally, I've been lucky to have had parents who were immigrants and instilled in us the power of education. We spoke standard English with a Caribbean accent and were teased mercilessly by many U.S. born blacks, who "resented" that our level of the English language obviously was higher than theirs and on top of that we were seen as the teacher's favourites. On our way home we were chased if we ever were alone and sometimes beaten, because they assumed we thought we were better. My parents worked hard and finally were able to move out of that neighborhood and it was upward for us from then on. My older siblings are outstanding adults who have moved back to our island home for fear of raising their kids in black communities that were constantly on self destructive trips.

This message was left on Classical One's blog in reference to his recent post discussing Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint's recent book about the problems that they recognize in the black American community, and how they believe these problems should be resolved. I would like to extend my congratulations to Cee for being lucky enough to be born to immigrant parents. She is clearly proud of her heritage, and feels blessed that she came from the background that she did.

Like Cee, I am also lucky. I was blessed to be born to black American parents in the United States in the post-Civil Rights era. Thus, I have enjoyed the benefits of the struggles of my black American ancestors: living in a country with a black population that collectively enjoys the greatest wealth, highest average annual income, and highest average educational attainment of any significant black population on the planet. Because of my black American heritage and the struggles of my black American ancestors, I have had the opportunity to attend private schools, travel all over the world, have access to the best health care, clean drinking water, indoor plumbing, electric lights, and the millions of other advantages that I and other Americans simply take for granted. Because of my ancestry above all, I have had the drive and ambition to pursue those opportunities to the fullest, and have had a whole cavalcade of role models, from Dr. King and Malcolm X, to Bill Cosby himself, who are not only known to me and other black Americans, but are universally admired, from Thailand to Uruguay to Finland. I have a precious legacy like no other, and my gratitude for it is fathomless.

That I am proud of who I am and where I come from should really go without saying--shouldn't everyone be? But, inevitably, there will be people who respond to this post as if I have written something obscene. Black Americans are the one group who are supposed to never, ever, express pride. Inevitably, someone will bring up crime statistics, marriage statistics, and out-of-wedlock birth statistics. They will likely point to other groups that have "succeeded" where black Americans have "failed." If I dare point out similar "failures" among those groups, I will be soundly admonished, even called a "bigot," and soberly reminded of the history of imperialism, colonialism, racism and oppression that these people have suffered that have contributed to the conditions in their home countries that they have often compelled them to come to the U.S. for higher education, jobs, and quite often, citizenship. On the other hand, black Americans must never mention history in discussing any problems that may persist in our community--history is history for others, but for us it is simply an "excuse."

Also relevant is the expectation that, as Americans, we will share in America's "guilty conscience" about U.S. economic colonialism and cultural imperialism--that we will cower in shame as many white Americans do when confronted with America's history of bad acts across the world. However, I'm not ashamed of being a black American--as I said, I am proud of it. Black Americans didn't engineer "Manifest Destiny" or plop a McDonalds on every street corner in the universe. We opened the doors that allowed freer entry to this country for more diverse populations, and allowed them to access greater opportunities once they got here as well. While it has always been a rite of passage to "Americanhood" to participate in the all-American pastime of distancing oneself from American blacks, that has never stopped us from continuing to progress, even in the face of those among us who embrace DBR behavior.

Yes, black American pride has become an unpopular opinion, and I imagine there are some, if not many, who will be offended that I dared to express it. But proud I am. I can only hope the same for all of you, whoever or whatever you may be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Childless by Choice?

For most of my life, I have assumed that I would be a mother one day. I have a wonderful mother, and wonderful grandmothers, one of whom I was particularly close to. Virtually all the women I admire most are mothers, and for well-educated and "successful" BW, there is always the implicit message that it is especially important that we reproduce: that not only our own families, but our community and our people NEED the children that we would rear.

Certainly, too many black children grow up in poverty and with a lack of opportunity; and when one has been blessed with both material good fortune, and a loving, healthy, and supportive family background, it seems that all the crucial ingredients are there to provide a perfect foundation for successful parenting. Indeed at our wedding, both sides of our families cheerfully prodded us for information on when they could expect to see a baby--when my husband stoutly suggested no time soon, everyone laughed and assured him that it wasn't up to him. The assumption was that (1) it was up to me, and (2) I, of course, wanted a baby.

Except, I don't. One of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome in seriously dating before I met my husband was the number of men that I met who were committed to being fathers. This is perfectly natural and to be expected--I certainly don't fault the marriage-minded men I met whose own biological clocks were ticking. It's just that my clock never started. And there is a part of me that will always feel a little guilty for that.

It's not just the "Talented Tenth" pressure to have babies for the Race. It's not just the generalized assumption that all normal women want to be mothers, and that there is something wrong with any woman who doesn't. It's not even that I am an only child, and I know that my mother would love to have grandchildren. It is also the part of me that sees so much need among the young, and realizes that I have much to offer a child(ren) as a mother, including all the wonderful qualities in my husband that our child won't have the chance to experience. I wonder, are we simply selfish?

But then I have to remember that no matter what you have to offer a child, materially or emotionally, what children need above all is to be wanted--passionately. I like kids, but I've never been one of the women at the office who drops everything to coo at a co-worker's baby. They make me smile, in the same way that I prefer cute kittens and cats, and even dogs, to their grown human owners--they're usually so much more pleasant. But that intense, overwhelming longing for a baby that so many women describe--that I have never experienced. Meeting a man that I was compatible with who felt pretty much the same way felt like a miracle for me.

Selfishness, in our eyes, would be to have children simply because we can and because it is expected of us. I see enough children around me being raised almost indifferently by au pairs and nannies because their fathers work 100 hours a week and their mothers, who supposedly "stay home," spend most of their time tanning and shopping, to know that a child can be an accessory, and that money can't make such a childhood "good." I assume that the people I describe "love" their children, just as reporters always insist that Britney Spears "loves" her children. But in my mind, love is action, not just something you feel or don't feel. If I can't know, right now, before I even contemplate pregnancy, that I deeply want to be a mother, then I have no right to bring a child into the world.

To be childless by choice, especially in the black community, feels like the last taboo. The last thing I want is to retreat into a bubble of self-interest, to ignore all those young faces in need. But I've had to recognize that what I have to give must be shared in a role other than mother. And I think that facing that fact honestly, with myself and others, is probably the greatest gift I could give any potential child.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The "Rules" Redux

In visiting the comments sections of number of blogs, I can't help noticing a certain pessimism among a number of the commentators who have shared their experiences in the dating scene. Some women have had bad experiences, and many have concluded that the bloggers are much too "optimistic" in their assessment of the availability of non-black dates to BW. Many sisters in particular have noted with disappointed that they have visited personals sites and noticed that many of the men whose profiles they have perused seem to make a specific point that they are interested in anything but a BW.

As an initial point, I would like to note that I have been careful not to suggest that any specific percentage of the non-BM population are interested in BW. Considering America's racial politics, I recognize that there is still a stigma attached to IRRs, and a stigma attached to dating BW in particular. As a result, I think there is still a social barrier to non-BM either seeing BW as viable dates/mates, or approaching them socially, so even when the attraction is there, it is not as likely to be acted on as other, more socially acceptable attractions.

However, I also believe, that considering the overall demographics of the U.S., that there are still more non-BM interested in BW than there are BW period, let alone BW interested in non-BM. So I still think focusing on the men who aren't interested probably isn't very constructive. As BW we should do everything in our power to defend our beauty and reputations so that our attractiveness as everything from employees to mates is improved--but if 1 woman has a pool of 100 men to choose from instead of 500 men, it isn't as if the odds are seriously against her even as things stand today.

Thus, reading these comments has made think back on my own adventures in the world of online dating and in the dating world in general. Many women, who like me, are happy, unashamed womanists who would never want a relationship based on game-playing or manipulation, will find the advice that I have culled (successfully) from tomes like "the Rules" and what sounds like the similar "He's Just Not That Into You" (which I haven't read) to be somewhat disheartening. If you find a man attractive, why not just approach him? If you want to call him, why not just call him? If you like him, why not just ask him out? Male friends and potential dates will almost always assure you that this is a wise path to take, and make it clear that they find it incredibly flattering when women do the pursuing, the calling and the asking, and take some of the undeniable burden off of their shoulders.

My only response to any of this is to note that I agree with it 100%--theoretically. I don't see any reason, on a philosophical basis, why a self-supporting adult can't ask a man out and pay for his dinner, or send him a first "wink" on a dating site. On a practical, experiential and real-world observational level, however, I can only acknowledge what I have repeatedly found to be true--when women approach and pursue men, it rarely leads to a happy relationship. Even typing these words is hard for me, because I wish they I had not found them to be true, but the reality is that I have found them to be true--again and again.

When I see sisters noting all the men on dating sites whose profiles exclude BW, I can't help but think "why do you even know what their profiles show"? I think the tried and true method for using such sites still stands: you put up a profile with a great, recent photo(s) of yourself, describe who you are and what you want in detail, and then choose your dates from the men who respond. I know many women will argue that this is passive, as if you are sitting in a tower waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming. I disagree. It is making it clear that you are available to Prince Charming, and then lets Prince Charming reveal his charm in order to win your favor. It's called courting. The question is would you rather choose from a pool of men who you find attractive, or from a pool of men who you find attractive and who also find you attractive?

That's the same reason why I've never been a big advocate of the initiating eye contact game. To me flirting starts with going out into the world looking your best with a friendly, happy demeanor. If a guy catches YOUR eye, and you're interested, you can hold his glance for an extra moment so he knows his approach wouldn't be entirely unwelcome; but searching out the cute guys at the library or museum just seems like asking for trouble. Sometimes women forget, but men can be cruel and predatory when it comes to the sexual pursuit of women.

Even the "nicest" guys can interpret even the mildest aggressive interest as desperation, which they will cheerfully exploit. Job #1 is always taking care of yourself, and that means letting him come to you, a process most men enjoy anyway. The same man who will sweet-talk the girl who does all the calling and goes dutch on dates only to dump her after the first time they have sex, will happily send flowers and pick up every check for the woman who makes it clear she likes him, but remains slightly elusive. This might smack of your grandmother's retrograde "buy the cow, milk for free" advice, but all people--male and female--tend to value what they have to work a little bit harder for.

In the end, all of us have to do what feels right for us and our personalities. A loud, blooming orchid can't be a shrinking violet, and some ladies will find this whole discussion ridiculously inapplicable to them. I always say, do it your way. But my whole purpose here is to share the benefit of my experience, both my own and what I have observed. I hope it can be of use.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Love and Marriage?

As everyone here knows, I am a recent newlywed and a strong advocate of healthy, happy marriages and relationships. Married people generally live longer, healthier, wealthier lives than their single counterparts, and societies and communities with large married populations tend to share the same characteristics of greater relative stability and affluence. As social animals, human beings need each other, not merely to thrive, but to survive.

Therefore, I understand the perfectly natural desire to seek out companionship and love. It is sad that so many young black women are actually encouraged to view this wholly natural and healthy desire as suspect and greedy, as if wanting a loving relationship with a decent man is somehow pathological. But the inspiration for my last post about “taking stock” was conversations that I have witnessed, on and off the blogosphere, in which young women have expressed a desire for relationships that struck me as somewhat premature.

I say this because while healthy relationships are an incredibly constructive force in the lives of both individuals and communities, unhealthy relationships exert an equally destructive force in the lives of those who live them and live around them. There any number of reasons why relationships go wrong, but I have always been a strong believer that most relationships that fail do so ultimately at conception—the parties enter into them for the wrong reasons, at the wrong point in their lives, with the wrong partners, or without the emotional wherewithal to sustain coupledom over the long-term. And the main motivation for making and sticking with these wrong choices, even after we realize their wrongfulness, is loneliness and the fear of being alone.

More than once when I was single, I went on a second date or gave a guy a third chance because I was able to convince myself that I was being “open” and flexible. In reality, I just didn’t want to be alone. That is normal; but we have to recognize such longing for what it is, and ensure that it doesn’t entrap us in a situation that we will eventually grow to regret. There’s nothing wrong with being “just friends,” as long as you both know that’s what it is.

I also think it is crucial to make peace with yourself, so that the goal of marriage or a long-term relationship doesn’t become all-consuming. I think because of the diminishing role of marriage in the black community, some of us have adopted a focus on marriage which borders on the obsessive. As positive as marriage can be, I have never been a believer that marriage, in and of itself, can make an unhappy person happy. Nor do I think it wise to put so much of the responsibility for your own well-being and fulfillment in the hands of another, which is necessarily the case if you feel that you must be married to be complete. Plenty of single people lead joyful, productive lives, and plenty of married people are miserable drags on society. A bad marriage doesn’t do anyone any good, and bad marriages too often result from desperation.

None of this is said to discourage black women from seeking serious relationships and marriage with worthy men. I adamantly reject the message that discourages black women from aspiring to marriage, that encourages them to settle for “man-sharing” and “babymamahood,” or to accept decades of celibacy rather than exploring every available option for finding the partners we want and deserve. I just think that it is important to recognize that you cannot have a good relationship with a man if you are not content within yourself. Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? Do you enjoy what you spend your days doing? Do you have a plan for your life beyond finding a husband? Our marital choices are crucial, but so are the choices we make about our careers, in caring for our health, in maintaining our relationships with our families, etc. Always--always--empower yourself, by making your life as full and complete as you can. To gain a man but lose yourself is truly a hollow "victory."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

First, Take Stock

As my fellow webophiles know, IRRs are a perennial favorite topic of conversation at most black message boards and blogs, despite the fact that most posters at such boards regularly express their indifference and disdain towards such relationships. One popular response to the latest breaking newsflash on the sellout of the day is to insist that said black person is “ugly” and the poster “wouldn’t want them anyway,” and that their white partner is “ugly,” “desperate,” a “loser,” etc.

This of course, is an interesting response on many levels, particularly from people who consider themselves so “pro-black,” that they would never “sellout” by dating a white person. They clearly view any black person who dates a white person to be “selling out,” i.e., somehow elevating themselves vis-à-vis other blacks by dating a white person, any white person--otherwise, how else could they be characterized as “selling out,” i.e., compromising their “racial integrity” in exchange for some kind of gain?

By the same token, they equally believe that any white person who dates a black person, any black person—no matter how beautiful, talented, successful, or accomplished--has somehow degraded themselves, reflected in the commonly stated belief that only “bottom of the barrel” whites date blacks, and the extreme aspersions generally cast on the characters and appearances of the white partners of black mates. Despite the overt professions of black pride that often accompany these complaints, such responses betray a clear belief that for black people, dating white is dating up, and that for white people, dating black is dating down. This is not how I define pride.

What often intrigues me more, however, is how common it is for the posters making such harsh judgments about the physical appeal of the couples at issue to include photographs of themselves that make it clear that they are inferior in physical appearance, not only to the couples they are critiquing, but probably to most people in general. This disconnect is particularly striking when the same posters make constant assertions about their “fineness” and desirability to the opposite sex.

We live in a society that has generally elevated “high self-esteem” above all other character traits as a value to be respected and admired. We inculcate it into our children from infancy, and both pity and despise those who do not think sufficiently well of themselves. “You have low self-esteem,” we hiss derisively at those we wish to cut to the quick. Yet, all too rarely do we ask, high self esteem based on what? Why do most people think so well of themselves? Should a stupid person think themselves intelligent? An ignorant person think themselves knowledgeable? An ugly person think themselves lovely? A cruel person think themselves kind? Increasingly, this is exactly the result we are getting, especially among our young, whose “self-esteem” we have so carefully nurtured to be “high,” rather than accurate.

One result is reflected in my last post, about disgruntled lawyers and law students who are embittered that they are failing to earn the $160,000-per year incomes post-law school that they had come to expect. While many of their complaints about the costs of legal education vs. the opportunities for legal employment are valid, the sense of thwarted entitlement that underlies so much of their complaining reflects the inevitable crash that afflicts the high self-esteem generation when they encounter one of life’s unavoidable pitfalls. They experience tremendous outrage, bitterness, and frustration, but they haven’t the slightest bit of initiative to make change or actually improve their lot. This is because their self-esteem is high, but not accurate—they think very well of themselves, but they’re actually quite average, and their lack of genuine specialness is revealed as soon as they have need of it—and realize it isn’t there.

In the same way, many of the women snickering at Venus Williams’ and Halle Berry’s dates have a seriously delusional view of their own relative appeal as women. Certainly, a woman is more than her face and body; but when both your outer and inner package are sour and negative, it may be time to forget about maintaining “self-esteem,” and think about taking stock. This is especially true for a woman who is seeking a relationship.

For black women, who face constant criticism from without, taking such an inventory from within is often fraught with pitfalls. The flipside of the constant hectoring to have “high self-esteem” in our society is the equally constant diminishment of the value and worth of everyone who deviates from rigid ideals of beauty and accomplishment. Typically, claims of “high self esteem” are simply a façade for deeper layers of self-loathing. That is why so many of the same Mammy/Mule types who are quick to crow about their “thickness,” and to laugh at Mike Nilon and Gabriel Aubry, are equally quick to lap it up when chastised for being “WTE/ABW” who are responsible for their own aloneness. They eagerly smile at black man in the street, and always give a brother a chance, even if he's “getting back on his feet,” after a stint in the penitentiary or a long period of idleness. They save their bile for black male sellouts and other black women.

Yet, despite their “high self-esteem” and “racial pride,” their relationships often fail, and they end up feeling like damaged goods—but they have no language for examining themselves critically that will actually be honest and constructive, no process that starts with the premise that they can have value as women, and have relationships that work. All of the criticism aimed their way is designed not to help them improve, but to render them even more vulnerable to exploitation. And since they believe it’s essential rationale—that to be black and a woman is to be worthless—they can never actually be better than they are. They stay stuck in a place where they remain prey, beasts of burden carrying everybody else’s weight and trying to keep other sisters in the same place. Their single “joy” is in the false pride of not having “sold out” because they just have too much “self-respect” for that.

It is so important for all of us who want the most out of our lives to first take stock of ourselves—not based on the destructive messages that so many of us have been programmed with since childhood, but based on the hard-won values and understandings that we have gained through developing real self-esteem and insight into ourselves and our goals. There’s no point in pursuing a relationship with another person without first understanding ourselves, and being prepared to bring the same maturity and stability to the table that we must demand of our partners. Don’t be like too many sisters who stay stuck, stay vulnerable, and hide their pain behind false bravado.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Be Prepared

This post may seem off-topic at first, but if you bear with me, I think it’s relevance will become clear. A recent front page article in the Wall Street Journal discussing one of the dirty little secrets of the American legal profession made me start thinking long and hard about the tremendous shifts which our society is undergoing, and the affect those shifts will inevitably have on personal relationships.

Entitled Hard Case: Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers: Growth of Legal Sector Lags Broader Economy; Law Schools Proliferate, the front page article published in Monday’s Journal set-off something like shockwaves in the legal blogosphere because it formally unmasked one of it’s bitterest, most high-profile “celebrities”: Scott Bullock, who is better know at sites like JDJive and JDUnderground as “Law is for Losers” or “L4L.” Mr. Bullock is a 2005 graduate of Newark’s Seton Hall University School of Law, a school ranked in the “second tier” of all accredited American law schools by the all-knowing U.S. News and World Report. In the article, Mr. Bullock candidly acknowledges having accrued more than $118,000 in law school debt which he is forced to support on an income of $50,000 a year as a personal injury attorney in Manhattan, despite having graduated in the top 1/3 of his law school class. Mr. Bullock, who asserts that high school friends employed as electricians and plumbers earn considerably more than he does, deems his law degree a “waste.”

The article includes a number of other similar tales of six-figure debt, unemployment, temporary work for $20-$30 an hour, and entry-level positions offering $33,000 per year with no benefits. Though few people outside the profession seem to recognize this fact, most lawyers know that while the number of positions available for attorneys and the average salaries achieved by most attorneys has stagnated or shrunk, the number of law schools and law school graduates, and the cost of paying for a legal education, have all exploded.

This state of affairs has produced incredible bitterness among many law students and lawyers, who are typically people who have spent their entire pre-law lives succeeding and being rewarded for their success. They have always gotten the best grades, and the highest scores on standardized tests, and thus they have usually grown to believe quite fervently in the legitimacy of these measures of quality and merit—after all, it is easy to believe that a system that says you are the best is judging properly. They have always done the “right thing” as the system has defined it, and now the system has made it clear that they are failures. They are sure that the problem is the law schools have misled them by encouraging them with false reports about the rates of employment and earnings of their graduates to overinvest in a worthless degree.

What most of those people complaining can’t (or won’t) recognize is that what we're undergoing here is a shift in the structure of our economy, not simply in the structure of the legal profession. As the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman loves to point out, globalization has created an economic system where there is a tiny elite of “winners” and their elite class of servitors (doctors, lawyers, bankers, etc.) and a huge population of “losers.”

Of course, Friedman likes to pretend that the sorting process is controlled by “merit”--but the reality is that this is the way the world has worked through most of human history--small elites control most of the power and resources, while the masses who actually do the producing own nothing. The reality is that now, middle and upper middle class white Americans, who at least on a global scale thought that they were part of the elite, are realizing (or should be) that they are actually part of the mass--and they don’t like it.

They want to pretend the problem is that they were sold a bill of goods by dishonest law schools, without acknowledging that they really had no meaningful alternative to going to law school to achieve what the ultimately were after--an elite lifestyle. The problem isn’t that the schools lied to them (though they did)--the problem is the schools couldn’t deliver what they promised, whether they admitted it or not, because the system can no longer deliver--the sham of “upward mobility” is itself being exposed as a fraud. And while more people are recognizing the fraud, most can't face it's true nature--that it’s not about choosing the “right” educational program or buying a house in the “right” market with the “right” kind of loan, any more than it was about choosing the “right” internet stock in 1999. It’s about a system that's breaking down, irretrievably, a way of life that's over: a world in which white middle-class American children who can always expect to do better than their parents.

What does all this have to do with personal relationships? As Evia often points out, the choice of a partner is crucial, and I think it is more so now than ever before. I’ve always been loathe here to give advice about what to look for in a man, since I think who a woman is attracted to and why she is attracted to him is so individual, and rightly so; nor do I consider myself an “expert” on picking a man for anyone other than myself. But I have been reading some handwriting on the wall that I think some other people may be missing, and it is relevant to the issue of choosing a partner.

There are some qualities that I think are consistently important across time: WHAT WAS HIS RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH HIS MOTHER? Loving, respectful, affectionate—but not tethered? WHAT WAS/IS HIS FATHER'S RELATIONSHIP LIKE WITH HIS MOTHER? I remember my husband telling me not long after we met that his father truly adored his mother. When a man grows up in a home where he sees his mother being adored, he learns how to adore. DOES HE LIKE WOMEN? No, not is he heterosexual (though this will come in handy too). Does he genuinely like women as people, not just as potential sexual targets? Many people, men and women, don’t really like women, and such people will usually end up treating you as a woman quite shabbily. DOES HE THINK YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL? Do you want anything less?

HOW DOES HE DESCRIBE HIS DISPUTES WITH OTHERS? Is anything ever his fault? Does he ever play a role in the problems he experiences in life? Or is he a perpetual victim, constantly being abused and taken advantage of by the maliciousness of others? Please believe—one day YOU will be one of the malicious “others” who is out to get him if you get involved with a man like this.

In terms of a partner who will help you thrive as our society undergoes tremendous change, WHAT IS HIS WORK ETHIC? IS HE PERSISTENT? IS HE FLEXIBLE? Is he easily defeated in the face of adversity? Does he expect everything to go his way, and fall apart when it doesn’t? The New York Times recently did a story on the number of American men who have simply dropped out of the job market, and usually the marriage market as well, who have essentially given up on doing anything more than subsisting in the face of struggle. A man’s work ethic and persistence are not just about the income he earns—they’re about his unwillingness to give up when the going gets tough. The going is getting tougher—are you prepared? Is he?

HOW DOES HE HANDLE HIS RESOURCES? Is he thrifty? Efficient? Does he understand the value of investing for the future? Is he overly concerned with impressing other people or enjoying transitory material pleasures? IS HE GOAL ORIENTED? Is there some significant achievement in his life that he can point to that he undertook to accomplish and then went on to actually attain—a degree, a job, a triathlon, anything?

These are some the values that I have found key in making a man a potentially attractive long-term mate. We all have our own individual list of qualities that we find appealing, but as our world changes, we have to be aware of how those changes can affect our lives, and how we can prepare to meet the challenges they present. One of the most important ways to prepare is to make sure that the man by your side has as complete an understanding as you do of what you’re up against.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Many of the responses to my last blog expressing my disappointment in some of the anti-black commentary I've encountered from BW at IR blogs raised another concern that is shared by a number of sisters in this community: the use of language, and whether what we choose to talk about, and how we choose to talk about it, reflects our sense of empowerment and ability to achieve our goals of a happy and healthy life.

In particular, some sisters have argued vehemently against use of the term "Damaged Beyond Repair Black Man," claiming that it amounts to little more than derogatory labelling that reflects an unhealthy continuing obsession with the very men that the women who frequent the blogs claim to be disinterested in. Why not focus instead on the kind of men we want, rather than the kind we don't want?

Halima, Evia, and many others defend the use of DBRBM with equal vigor, asserting that the word is simply a tool that serves as a means of warning sisters of a potential danger to their safety and sanity so that can protect themselves against that danger, and actually find the kind of relationship they want and deserve: i.e., forewarned is forearmed.

I tend to agree more with the latter position; but what I find more interesting is why certain words seem to generate so much more concern than others. For instance, in Halima's latest post she provides a brief "something new lexicon," which includes, among other concepts, both "DBR" and "Mammy ideology," referring to the mentality which animates black female defenders of DBRBM. Strangely enough, I've noticed that people rarely if ever complain about the use of the term "mammy," though it certainly has connotations that are arguably more "derogatory" and historically freighted for BW than "damaged beyond repair" is for BM. Why then is the response to this term so much more muted?

Additionally, I find it puzzling that because a BW is interested in dating IR, the assumption is that she has no further reason to ever think about BM. First of all, many BW who want to date IR are simply attracted to a variety of men--INCLUDING BM. Secondly, no matter who a BW dates, she is still black, and likely has a black father, black brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, and acquaintances; she will likely live in a community with a large population of BM that she will have to relate and navigate, even if she preferred not to. She will still turn on her radio or TV, open a book or a magazine, and encounter images of BW created by BM--images whose repurcussions she will have to cope with. It's not as if BM simply disappear from the landscape of the universe of a BW when she dates IR.

Some may argue that even if a BW in an IRR may still have a perfectly legitimate interest in BM, an IR dating site is not the place for her to discuss that interest. In terms of my blog, I can only point out that while IRRs are a strong focus here, it is not the ONLY focus--I stated right from the outset that my purpose was to create a "black girl's haven," where BW and all those who love and support us could come to talk and exchange information and ideas relevant to all facets of our lives. In terms of the IR blogs generally, the reality is that the response of BM specifically, and the bc more generally, to BW in IRRs is a relevant experience for many women who date and marry IR. To tell such women to focus on finding the man they want, without focusing at all on the context in which that relationship will evolve, isn't entirely fair. It may not seem like it, but finding men is the easy part. Creating a healthy relationship that will work over the long haul, in an often hostile world, is the real challenge--and it is that challenge that I believe really motivates most of the women who seek out these blogs to seek them out.

In any case, I'm always uncomfortable with the idea of telling others what not to talk about. Even when people say things I hate, I prefer to confront and respond to them (or ignore them, as the case may be) rather than argue that certain discussions shouldn't happen at all. As much as I may not have liked to see someone claiming to be a BW at the BW's IR Circle arguing that BW love thugs, I don't kid myself that if I didn't see that statement being made there, it would mean that sort of mentality doesn't exist. Sometimes an issue is raised as much as it is BECAUSE it has been so powerfully suppressed--thus, it shouldn't surprise us that a group of BW who gather to support each other in getting free of one taboo can't help but struggle to get free of another as well--the taboo against criticizing BM within the community. If we stop saying it here, will it go away? Should it?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Where is the Love?

In keeping with my latest theme of "pet peeves with the IR community," I must mention an ongoing irritation with an almost knee-jerk, negative reaction expressed by many IR sisters to any and everything black. It's almost as if in embracing the freedom to experience life and love wherever it may be found in the global village, many sisters have had to cope with a tremendous, heretofore suppressed, rage against the bc, which they feel has made every effort to encourage them to sacrifice their own happiness and prevent them from achieving the greatest possible joy and satisfaction in their lives--a perception that is, unfortunately, often true.

I've been loathe to address this issue, primarily because I think that the increased willingness of BW to challenge and criticize DBRBM in the same way that they would any other group of people who have done us great harm, is a healthy, positive, and necessary development. Even if no BW was dating IR, ALL BW need to abandon the Cult of Black Manhood, with it's periodic ritual sacrifices of BW, that has gripped the black community for decades--and arguably done us as much harm as any other identifiable force in our society as a whole. This Cult has left too many sisters struggling to raise children alone in poverty: denigrated, unhealthy, vulnerable to exploitation and violence, bearing the burdens of an entire people on their shoulders without acknowledgement, but with plenty of blame to spare. Anytime it is exposed, I am happy.

However, that doesn't mean that a sister's willingness to criticize BM when the criticism is merited justifies a wholesale descent into stereotypical attacks on blackness itself, which is frankly what I have witnessed among many sisters all too often on IR blogs. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from honestly exposing their own painful experiences within our community, or from reaching whatever conclusions their own reason lead them to reach about those experiences. Clearly, sisters have and do put up with way too much, and frankly, a lot of us have simply had it. However, statements about how "all" or "most" black people are stupid, fat, impoverished, ignorant, criminal failures are simply false-- and the fact that black people are making these statements does not make them any less racist.

In the same way, pointing out the destructive havoc that DBRBM wreak in our community does not mean that we have to join the mainstream amen chorus that deems them white America's sole bogeyman. Do I think O.J. killed his wife? Despite having purposely avoided the media circus surrounding his trial (just I did with Robert Blake's, and am doing with Phil Spector's), I'm pretty sure he did. Do I seethe with outrage that he used money and celebrity to buy his way out of the prison term he deserved? Not really. People have been buying their way out of the prison terms they deserve since the inception of the American criminal justice system, and they will keep doing so. I don't believe for a minute that all of the white Americans so outraged by the injustice of O.J.'s acquittal (or Michael Vick's dogfighting, or Barry Bond's steroid abuse) are really so invested in the value of human or dog life, the faults of our criminal justice system, or cheating in sports--if they were, they would be just as outraged when the victims are black and the perpetrators are white. Pointing out this hypocrisy is not the same as "defending" DBR behavior. It is realizing that most DBR behavior--which is perpetrated against black women and children--is only enabled by focusing exclusively on such behavior when it touches white victims or offends white sensibilities.

As a black woman, I can't afford to prop up a system that is based in part on the idea that human life has relative value--and that deems mine, my mother's, and aunts, and cousins, and friends, and all of you sisters who read these blogs and deserve only the best--as less than worthy. Quite frankly, this is the clear and unmistakable message when 13 years after Nicole Brown's death, we are still supposed to be mad at O.J., and the police haven't even bothered to figure out where Stepha Henry is. For every O.J., there are 100 DBRBM abusing, exploiting and abandoning black women and children--where is the hourly CNN update for them? Too many of us seem comfortable with the explanation that those sisters deserve whatever they get--even as we weep for Natalee Holloway and Jesse Davis, women who hardly conducted themselves with perfect seemliness--but who still didn't deserve to have their lives stolen from them.

Sisters, all I'd like to see is a little consistency, combined with a lot of self-preservation. Wrong is wrong, whoever does it, and whoever they do it too. But our first consideration must be ourselves. If sisters are engaging in self-destructive, mulish behavior, I'm the first to say so. But I'm also the first to point out how simply spectacular most of us, and I always will be. Let's not forget the former even in the face of the latter.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One Drop, Today

As my egregious neglect of this blog reflects, I have leapt into the world of BigLaw with both feet--and it's as demanding as I was warned it would be, plus some. Luckily, (at least so far), I seem to have landed in a good group of talented people, so I expect to learn a lot as well as work a lot.

Of course, BigLaw means Manhattan--and I wasn't really looking forward to returning to work in NY. From the time I was child I've loved NY--it always seemed like some distant, fantastical planet full of unique and magical people and places. Now--it's full of Starbucks and people who work at BigLaw firms (and I-Banks). They all had so much fun at their Hamptons sharehouses over the summer, and they all got such great deals on their new places in the Financial District! (or Harlem! It's much safer now, you know!)

Okay, I'm not being entirely fair, since most of the people I've met have been perfectly pleasant. But this new experience has only made me think a little more about my occasional discomfort with other "communities" of which I am a part--including the "IR community," if there is such a thing.

This thought arose in particular in response to yet another article (this one in the latest Marie Claire) where Rebecca Walker (nee Leventhal) yet again disucsses how painful she found it to be considered black as a child and what a challenge it was for her to come to terms with her biracial identity. I don't say this to dismiss whatever Ms. Walker may or may not have had to contend with in her life, or to suggest that the distinct struggles that biracial people face generally are some less important are compelling than those faced by black people. Nor am I one of those black proponents of the modern one-drop rule, who insists that anyone with any black ancestry is required to identify exclusively as black or be labelled a "sell-out" or "self-hating." I'm sure her description of shame and self-loathing resonates with many people of African descent in a white supremacist world, not just biracials.

I guess my mild irritation arises from the consistency of this theme in Ms. Walker's work and public pronouncements, almost as if she has embraced the role of professional tragic mulatto. All too often, there's a thin line in such narratives between resentment of the racism that treats blackness as a taint that pollutes those otherwise humanized by straighter hair and lighter skin--and resentment of blackness itself, as an actual pollutant, an anchor that traps the Rebecca Walkers of the world in a dark abyss that they can't escape.

Equally irritating is that, all too often, this frustration and resentment seems to be aimed exclusively at black people. Certainly, you will rarely hear white people angrily complaining that Halle Berry is a black "sell out" for screwing Billy Bob Thornton on film or Gabriel Aubrey in real life. On the other hand, you will also rarely hear white people calling Halle Berry a white anything. While black people are generally active and explicit participants in the Contemporary Cult of One-Drop, it's continued existence is not solely or even primarily a product of black insistence.

While white parents, family members and friends may be more accepting than blacks of your identity as non-black, do they accept you as white? Do they view biracial identity as genuinely distinct from blackness, or simply another form of blackness? I am truly eager to learn, as I am sure many of the other visitors to this site are as well--who may themselves be biracial, or who may one day be parents of biracial children. Please share your perspective on this issue.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The 'Superbad' Syndrome

Let me start this blog by noting that I haven't seen Superbad, and this isn't a review of the movie, which I have heard is quite funny. The Superbad Syndrome I refer to isn't a critique of the film itself, but refers instead to the emblematic theme that is repeated in much of the the advertising I've seen for the movie: the longing of nerdy/skinny/fat/unpopular/poor guys for conventionally hot and desirable girls as a triumph of the spirit with which we should all identify. "Great," I thought as I watched the commercials. "The ugly guy gets the hot chick--again."

Whether its the King of Queens, Yes, Dear, According to Jim, Knocked Up, Beauty and the Geek, or anything starring Jack Black or Rob Schneider, the image of the Schlub and the Supermodel is iconic in our culture. Implicit in this image is the idea that it is natural and normal for all men to desire conventionally beautiful women, even when the men themselves are conventionally ugly. Vague, poorly articulated "theories" of evolutionary biology are utilized to support the assertion that every man has a biological imperative to seek a harem of 20-year old anorexic blonds with breast implants as a function of the need to reproduce their genetic heritage.

Strangely, such theories are rarely propounded to support the idea that women long for young, tall, muscular men for the same reasons. We rarely see movies or television shows in which wisecracking fat women or homely AV-club chicks get the hot captain of the football team--not unless their "homeliness" can be overcome by little more than removing their glasses and letting down their hair to reveal a beautiful swan.

And the idea that women might seek wealthier, more successful men with a greater capacity to be breadwinners and support families on the basis of the same forces of "natural selection" is roundly rejected; it isn't "nature" that inspires such preferences in women, but materialism and greed. The message is clear: men have a right to have standards; women do not.

As usual, this reasoning is taken to a punitive extreme with black women, who are routinely excoriated by "brothas" and "sistas" like Sabrina Lamb, who argue that black career women are "just too picky," because of their unwillingness to smile warmly at broom-wielding strangers on the streets of NYC.

Lamb does not explicitly explain what being "too picky" means, other than being "hell-bent on marrying a corporate brother" or failing to forage the "safe havens" where "good brothers" have allegedly sequestered themselves: "the barbershop . . . financial workshops . . . night school, political campaigns, sporting events or out on the back porch."

While BW who want to meet men must stop spending their free time hanging out with girlfriends, BM don't have to change anything about how they spend their discretionary hours--indeed, they don't even have to leave their backporches.

Lamb insists that a "good" BM is not hard to find--but she doesn't provide much substance to her description of what makes a BM "good." On the other hand, what makes a BW "good" is not her education, professional achievement or financial independence, but her "softness," and her willingness to skulk around barbershops and backporches hunting for a man (which hardly comports with traditional notions of "softness" and femininity, by the way). Since BM neither have to rely on achievement OR effort to be "good," that doesn't leave much more than the Superbad Syndrome to tell us what makes such men worthwhile: we are told at the outset that they are the protagonists for whom we should be rooting (see, e.g., Unfortunately, real life is not a movie or a sitcom--in real life, knowing what you want and respecting yourself enough to insist on it is simply part of healthy maturity.

For example, I never cared much about a man's income, but I cared very much about his money-management skills, frugality, and demonstrated ability to live within his means. These are important values to me. A large income, educational attainment and a successful career may be important values to other women, for perfectly valid reasons. My point isn't that women should also hold out for 20-year old blonds with washboard abs, or reject janitors and pudgy shlubs. My point, as always, is that our choices must be reflections of our own values, our own interests, and our own assessments of what will make us happy in life.

This is why I've never had a problem with a BW who, after thoughtful reflection, decides that her mate must be black, and is at peace with whatever the consequences of that choice may be. My only critique has been of sistas who (1) decide that their mate must be black, and then insist that their chances of finding such a mate are the same as women with no such criteria, and (2) waste precious life energy gnashing their teeth and tearing their hair over random BM who feel no such "loyalty."

When, as I mentioned above, that I could never marry a man who could not live within his means, I knew that living in America, that would drastically reduce the pool of otherwise marriageable men that I had to choose from--conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Joneses is a way of life for most Americans. While I believe in marriage and recognize it's important role not only to individual, but societal well-being, I was also comfortable with the possibility that my particular standards might mean that I would not find the right "one," at least not right away. I was confident the time would come, and made sure to stay attractive, social, and above all, relaxed. But I was happy with myself, my family, my friends, and my career; my life was full--now, it is simply fuller.

I know sistas who prefer BM who have the same perspective, and they have nothing but my respect. Whatever your choice, it is right if you're at peace with it. If you're angry, frustrated, fearful, and feel powerless in the face of your future, it is not right. This is how the Sabrina Lamb's of the world can prey on such BW's insecurities: they never articulate precisely what these women are supposedly doing "wrong." They never point out precisely what they should be seeking that is "right." They simply create apocryphal tales of snooty gold diggers who only want "corporate brothers" and refuse to smile at "regular" BM.

In Ms. Lamb's "Superbad" fantasy world of ill-defined "good brothas" and hard-headed career women, smiling more and being soft are all that's required to get what you need. You don't have to figure out what you need first, and you certainly don't have to expect the men you encounter to actually fulfill those needs. Just stop demanding Jaguars and five-star dinners, and your blue-collar "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" prince will drop into your lap like manna from heaven.

Remember ladies--life is not a movie. In real life, you write the script, and must what qualities are "heroic." Don't serve anybody else's agenda.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So--What Can We Do?

Many of the bloggers and blog posters have reached a consensus: we as conscious BW must confront the forces in the media that continue to marginalize and stereotype us, whoever they may be.

The question then becomes, as many posters have asked, how? I think knockoutchick and Evia have provided excellent answers that deserve highlighting:

knockoutchick says:

WE have the power as Gina over at (What About Our Daughters?) WAOD has shown. All of us can effect change in our own worlds. For instance we can suggest a black girl as local beauty queen in our towns. Choose a black girl to mentor. Tell little black girls they are beautiful. Question the news cycle sole focus on the perils of WW only. And most importantly, stop buying products and services from those that belittle us.

And Evia again points out the crucial role of bloggers in spreading the word:

I find that a lot of bw don't even know about the various events going on in the country that might or do impact us negatively because they don't know where to go to get the info. So, in terms of products and services, we need one or two people to set up a blog or site that provides info about these products and services that belittle us--kind of like a bw's 'defamation clearinghouse' where we could all go to get info about people, products, and services that defame us. When the info is scattered, sistas just don't have time to look for it.

Please don't discount the importance of opening up another line of communication as a means of empowerment. I can provide a recent example from my own field that shows how fast and effective spreading the word and expediting a response can be in making change:

Cleary Gottlieb has a bad hair day - Talk about a Glamour don't.
Vivia Chen/The American LawyerAugust 27, 2007

It seemed like a nice frothy summer treat for some hardworking gals at a hard-driving law firm . . . the women lawyers group at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton invited an editor from Glamour magazine. The topic: the dos and don'ts of corporate fashion.

First slide up: an African-American woman sporting an Afro. A real no-no, announced the Glamour editor to the 40 or so lawyers in the room. As for dreadlocks: How truly dreadful! The style maven said it was "shocking" that some people still think it "appropriate" to wear those hairstyles at the office. "No offense," she sniffed, but those "political" hairstyles really have to go.

By the time the lights flicked back on, some Cleary lawyers -- particularly the 10 or so African-American women in attendance -- were in a state of disbelief. "It was like she was saying you shouldn't go out with your natural hair, and if you do, you're making a political statement," says one African-American associate. "It showed a general cluelessness about black women and their hair."

The episode also produced a "mixed reaction" along racial lines, says this associate. "Some [whites] didn't understand what the big deal was ... but all the black associates saw the controversy."

Cleary Gottlieb's managing partner, Mark Walker, who heard about the incident from some of the attendees, also saw trouble. Soon after the event, Walker issued an e-mail that denounced the hair commentary as "racially insensitive, inappropriate, and wrong." Calling the beauty advice "appalling," Walker says, "You don't tell people that their physical appearance is unacceptable, when certain characteristics are associated with a racial group." He asks, "What's the alternative? Straighten or bleach your hair?"

As for the identity of the editor, neither Cleary Gottlieb nor Condé Nast Publications Inc. (publisher of Glamour) would say. Indeed, almost all of the half-dozen Glamour editors contacted for this story professed not to have ever set foot in a law firm. "Cleary what?" asked several.

And Walker says he has no idea whether the editor who sparked all this controversy is a well-known fashionista. Not that Walker would know, even if Anna Wintour herself crossed his path. "Who is she?" Walker asks. "I really don't know people in the fashion industry." (If you have to ask, she's the editor of Vogue.)

So did the Glamour editor realize how many feathers she ruffled? Walker says that the speaker was "spoken to by one of the women partners" and that she sent an e-mail apology. "I assume she was oblivious; I doubt she's racist," says Walker. "She wasn't thinking and said something hare-brained."
Or is that hair-brained?

Bloggers Fan the Fury Over Hairstyle Advice to Cleary's African-American Lawyers
Vivia ChenThe American LawyerAugust 27, 2007
Geeky Wall Street law firms don't usually make the style pages. But Cleary Gottlieb has become a fixture on at least a dozen hipster blogs -- including and -- in recent weeks.

As reported in the August issue of The American Lawyer, sparks flew after a Glamour magazine beauty editor spoke at the firm's women's luncheon this summer. The editor's edict that black lawyers avoid Afros and dreadlocks infuriated the firm's African-American lawyers.

Judging by the traffic on the blogs, that fury has spilled well beyond the halls of Cleary Gottlieb. One reason for the strong reaction is that the issue of hair style has long been a hot button topic for African-American professional women. "Whether you let your hair go natural or straighten is a very touchy subject," says one black female partner at a New York firm.
Though Cleary hosted the event, Glamour is getting most of the heat. "I'll never buy Glamour again," was a typical refrain in the blogs. Not surprisingly, Glamour is engaged in damage control. In an e-mail statement to The American Lawyer, the fashion magazine repudiated the beauty advice, and characterized the editor as a "junior staffer" who spoke "without her supervisor's knowledge or approval." Moreover, the statement said that Glamour has a "longstanding commitment to inclusion and diversity."

Many of the blog commentators, however, think that the fashion community could learn some style points from big law firms. Wrote one blogger: "I suspect that the Glamour editor had no freakin' idea that law firms are far more accepting places these days than the mainstream fashion world."

Law firms cooler than the fashion world? Imagine that

Just that fast the word got out--and just that fast, Glamour faced a backlash that they knew they would have to respond to. We still need to know who this "editor" was, and we need to continue to hold Glamour's feet to the fire (along with Vogue and Cosmopolitan and all the rest)for their persistence in maintaining a discrimnatory and exclusionary status quo that considers BW's natural hair, natural skin color, natural features, natural existence "political" and "inappropriate" for their pages--though they certainly welcome our dollars.

Whoever can start the "anti-defamation clearinghouse" will have plenty of support from all of us. But, of course, as knockoutchick noted, there are so many actions we can each take now. Write Glamour an email, making it clear that your natural hair is not a "political statement," and cc: three of their major advertisers. Call your local station and ask them if they're planning a story on Stepha Henry. Keep reading and posting to these blogs so that you're aware of what's going on, and can share your knowledge with us even if you can't start a blog of your own. It all starts with communication!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Who DO You Love?

At the Black Women's IR Circle, a number of posters have recently expressed discomfort with what they perceive as the "white male-centric" focus of many of the IR blogs. These women have noted their own interest in Asian and Hispanic men, and even their distate for WM. Does IR for BW have to = WM?

Of course not. My husband is white, but I have pointed out before that I am one of those lucky women who has always been attracted to a wide variety of men, and also realized at a relatively early age that I should take full advantage of that attraction to find exactly what I was looking for in a partner in terms of real compatibility, rather than race. I encourage all sistas to do the same, and I have never seen advice on any of the blogs that contradicts this position. My entire purpose is to encourage BW to always seek the best wherever it may be found, and any good man who adores you from your eyebrows to your toes is to be enjoyed for the treasure he is.

On the other hand, I speak from a specific place (the United States) which has a specific population. For women seeking eligible, compatible men, they are probably best served by seeking men in those groups that contain the largest number of potentially eligible, compatible men--and for women in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, that will be WM. Siginificantly as well, for American, Canadian and European women, they will generally have more in common with men who have been reared in these cultures, even if those men are white, then they will with men reared outside of those cultures, even if those men are not white. Very often, we our encouraged to consider ourselves part of some monolithic "people of color" united in interest against "the white man," which often isn't a very accurate depiction of our real world experience.

Additionally, I must also speak honestly from my own experience--and my experience dating Hispanic men specifically has not been particularly positive. I have found that many Hispanic cultures are freighted with the same sort of racism, colorism, and anti-BW discrimination that can be found in the black American community. I have found the same disdain for dark skin and blackness among Asians, especially for dark women--all you have to do is look at the most esteemed female beauty icons of China, India, Korea, Thailand, etc. to know exactly what I'm talking about: the women are often literally white-skinned, and have often had their eyes and noses surgically "enhanced" to look more "Western," i.e., white.

Perhaps ironically, I have found that WM are the least likely to be color-struck, and the most likely to find BW's dark skin, tightly curled hair, and full features beautiful and appealing. Since I also find my features beautiful and appealing (LOL!) and have no interest in altering them, I can only be with a man who appreciates me as I am, unbleached and unaltered. I have often heard the same thing from AW in explaining their own preference for WM, who they say appreciate their natural slanted eyes, broad noses, and golden skin in a way that many AM don't.

Again--this only reflects my experience. I know that plenty of BW have had bad experiences with WM, and good experiences with AM, HM, and BM for that matter, and I would never discount that--and I would never tell any woman to exclude an entire group of men from her dating consideration. I always say if he makes you laugh, he has a good character, and you get that little "flutter" in your stomach when you hear his voice, it can't hurt to let him take you to lunch. **shrug**

I just think that sometimes the congruent trap to "nothing but a black man" is "anything but a white man." I would never presume to tell anyone who to be attracted to or date; but abiding by these kinds of artificial restrictions is quite simply a trap. Always do what feels right, but don't exchange one straight-jacket for another.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


As you all know, I pulled my own "disappearing act" last week to get married and enjoy a little time off with my honey, family and friends. The honeymoon won't be for a few months though, since I will be transitioning to a new job in the next few weeks (because I never bite off more than I can chew--no, not I!!) and DH has some work travel of his own to attend to. In any case, thank you all so much for your warm wishes on our recent union. It feels great!

I wanted to open up discussion this week about a very complex issue that has been troubling me for some time now: the connection between popular images of black women, and our sexual and romantic desirability to men generally. It is an issue I've touched on before here in discussions about everything from mainstream advertisements to pornography, because I think that the power of imagery in contemporary society to shape male and female perceptions of appropriate partners would be hard to overemphasize.

Most modern societies have evolved from the point where parents and clans arrange marriages for offspring, to providing only slightly less formal community meeting places for choosing appropriate partners (church, socials, friends of family), to the current environment where our only guidelines are the broad-based and increasingly vague criteria of class, race, gender, sexuality, age, "chemistry"--and our own allegiance to these concepts.

Now that our choices are almost entirely our "own," the role of of socialization and social imagery in teaching us how to choose our mates has become increasingly important. For many Westerners, for better or worse, the mass media has replaced church, family, and virtually every other institution of significance in guiding our decision-making processes for choosing our careers, our homes, value systems, and our mates.

What this means for black women is that, even as we make incredible strides in the real world, the negative and false imagery that predominates popular representations of us has become arguably more dangerous than ever. The seductive, promiscuous light-skinned Jezebel, and the big, dark, dominant, emasculating, sharp-tongued Sapphire/Matriarch all share one trait in common--they are deviant. Regardless of how restrictive or degrading the mainstream feminine "ideal" may be for other women, black women are always defined in opposition to it--and thus men are taught that to desire us is to indulge a fetish, rather than to engage a normal urge. We are not only forbidden fruit (like black men), we are a marginalized and perverse taste. That is, when we are visible at all.

For too long, we have neglected to address this negative propaganda campaign against us, and its devastating impact that is now revealing its destructive consequences in the lives of so many young black women. As usual, the focus of the "community" has been on negative images of black men, and ameliorating the effect of those images on black men. Many of us assumed that once black people gained positions of authority in the media, that destructive images of black women would naturally improve; instead, we have seen that black men and women who hold such positions seem more eager than ever to cash in by throwing us under the bus or eliminating our images altogether. This is intolerable.

This is why we must insist on making our voices heard on this issue. Sisters touched on this question at the Black Women's IR Circle under the "Permission to Survive" post, where some questioned whether we should bother "boycotting" black male celebrities who insult and belittle black women, and consistently choose non-black mates. I agree with those who posited that such men have every right to choose to partner with whoever they wish, and that our greatest focus should be on finding our own healthy, happy relationships--but I also agree with those who insisted that when someone attacks and undermines us, we must make it clear that we will not accept such treatment. This is not merely an issue of "hurt feelings" or "freedom of speech": this is about the freedom and opportunities that will be available to young black women, their right to love, the acknowledgement of their beauty and femininity. No one must be permitted to attack our womanhood with impunity.

As one of my very wise uncles pointed out to me when I was a child, in this country, we vote with our dollars. No choice you make with a ballot will ever mean as much in the first instance as who you give your money in America--or who you withhold it from. We as black women have gained much power in this arena, and it is time for us to leverage it. Think of the movies you see, the songs you download, the magazines you read, the television shows you watch, and all the commercial products whose advertisements support these endeavors. Do they employ black models and actresses? If so, are they portrayed as feminine and romantically attractive? Are they portrayed stereotypically? Are we included at all? As efforts like Gina McCauley's campaign against the hot mess that is BET's "Hot Ghetto Mess/We've Got to Do Better" make clear, we can make a difference--we do have power. Now let's exercise that power!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just Married!

Please forgive my neglect of the blog--Friday was our Big Day, and even a simple, modest wedding these days requires a lot more planning than I anticipated! It was a lovely ceremony, and I'm just relieved and content that we've formalized the bond that we've already shared for so long. Life is good, and we're very grateful for each other and our wonderful family and friends--including our friends in the blogosphere!

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Sisters" and Friends?

BW in interracial relationships can often cite a number of incidents during the course of their relationships where BM have responded to their choice of partner with puzzlement, contempt, hostility and even aggression. For the most part, we understand the racial/sexual politics of American society, and recognize that the effort of strangers to make our personal relationships part of their larger battlefield is simply one of the expected complexities of choosing a life unrestrained by the prejudices of others. However, we often have more difficulty coping with the judgments that we sometimes encounter from other BW, who often seem especially eager to establish their "pro-black" bona fides by making it clear to BM critics that they are just as angry about BW/WM IRRs as they are about BM/WW IRRs.

Why would our own sisters turn on us? They live in our communities. They see the women struggling to raise children alone--they often ARE those women. They go to the churches where the only men are the preacher and the deacons, i.e., the one's collecting all the money and making all the decisions. They feel the fear of walking down the street alone, of being harassed like dogs, of locks on windows and doors, of never feeling safe. They turn on the radios and the televsisions, where we are invisible except as objects of derision and ridicule. They know the drama and the pain of "hood romance," where not only marriage, but fidelity, mutual respect, trust, and honesty are all considered absurd "bougie" conceits--where relationships are open warfare in which the goal is to play them before they play you.

If they're lucky enough to have mothers, aunts and grandmothers who struggle and sacrifice to get them to college, they know that the "brothas" start opening up their options right there on those college campuses where they're outnumbered by sisters 2- and 3- to -1; today, those same "brothas" probably started opening up their options in junior high and high school. How often were they mocked and ignored for not having long, "good" hair like the "Spanish" girls? How early did they learn to accept their place: to be first in line to attack other BW for being too obese, having too many OOW babies, having too much fake hair, being too picky in our choices of men, being too lax in our choices of men, being too ________________?

And yet, these are the very "sistas" who now warn that the "black community" is in danger of disappearing due to the threat of IRRs. So this "community" will somehow thrive if the majority of its women continue doing what they're doing now--spending their lives sporadically alone? Forgoing love, companionship, security, stability--and not incidentally, depriving their children of these crucial elements of healthy development? Remaining silent in the face of their own obsolescence?

The answer that these sisters give when pressed is typically a variation on the theme that "Black Love is what continues the Black race" and IRRs = racial suicide. As one sister recently described it, "IRRs are a plot by the white man to eliminate Black love and eventually the Black race." I addressed the irrationality of this argument in Point 5 of my "Questions and Answers" blog from August 5; but the bigger issue to me is the extent to which black love continues to exist independently of IRRs. After all, if the continuation of the black race is dependent on BM and BW marrying one another, than IRRs are essentially irrelevant--even if we accept the logic of this rationale, IRRs don't equal racial suicide, the unwillingness of BM and BW to marry each other equals racial suicide. Why then do these sisters point to US as the "problem," instead of addressing all those complaining, unmarried "brothas" who have suddenly discovered the critical importance of "black love" to the health of the race? Isn't "black love" not only about marrying BM, but about our relationships with each other, and ourselves?

We are indeed in danger now. But that danger arises from us marching like lemmings to our own demise by trying to police each other's behavior--for whose benefit? Our own? Our children? The "community"? Sisters are dying of AIDS, diseases arising out of sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and stress, domestic violence and violent crime--we are dying from lack of care. Has the "community" stepped up to provide that care? The "sistas" who choose to put their energy into mourning the "black prince who got away" and chiding BW who won't stay in their place will unfortunately end up on the dust heap of history. It is WE who choose loving partners and who choose to care for ourselves, who set a positive example for other sisters. It is in providing that care and leadership that WE will survive and ultimately insure our survival as people.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

“Why Talk About Black Men At All?”

Since Dionne Walker’s AP article “More Black Women Consider ‘Dating Out’” appeared earlier this week, it has quickly spread as a topic of discussion across the Web, after being broadly reprinted everywhere from the Guardianto CNN. Featuring our “own” Rosyln Holcomb and Evia Moore, the article focused generally on the increasing numbers of BW dating and marrying interracially, and contained some discussion of the reasons for this growing phenomena.

In the wake of this increased focus has been an increased scrutiny of the blogs and message boards where sisters gather to meet and discuss their interest in, and experiences with, interracial relationships. One consistent criticism that both pre-dates Ms. Walker’s article, and has been amplified in it’s wake, has been the claim that BW in interracial relationships focus inordinately and unnecessarily on BM. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this assertion is based on the assumption that BW in interracial relationships need an “excuse” to date out, and therefore engage in “BM-bashing” as a justification for their desire for non-BM. Why mention BM at all, we are asked?

I would never presume to speak for any other bloggers or for sisters in interracial relationships more generally on this issue. However, the subjects that I choose to discuss here are based on my interests, and what I see and hear around me from other sisters in terms of their challenges and concerns. My own decision to date interracially was not strictly happenstance—I have always been attracted to a wide variety of men, but as I began to think about marriage, I began to realize I could easily go months without meeting a compatible BM, while I was encountering compatible non-BM on a weekly and sometimes even daily basis. This inspired me to do what those of us from academic families typically do: a little research.

That research made it clear to me that my individual experience was one that educated, middle and upper middle class BW who were interested in marriage were experiencing in increasing numbers. While I had been raised and socialized with the expectation that I would eventually meet and marry a compatible BM, I didn’t experience the absence of such a man as a “crisis” or a “shortage.” For me, it was pretty straightforward: my priority was ultimately to build a great life with a great guy. Since there were still plenty of great guys out there, nothing crucial about my plans had changed, anymore than meeting more guys who were 5’10 than 6’2 would change my plans.

Nevertheless, I did recognize that for BW for whom race isa crucial factor in a choice of mate, there isa shortage, and I would feel dishonest if I didn’t point out that I think these women are probably selling their opportunities short as a result of their perspective; this was one of the reasons I chose to discuss the role of narrative earlier, because the story so many BW tell themselves of “I must only be with a BM/there is a BM ‘shortage’” is an important force that prevents too many sisters from having the life that they want and deserve.

It would also be dishonest of me not to address the social pressures that BW who date and marry interracially often face, and to confront the source of those pressures and point out some of the key reasons they are illegitimate. There are lots of wonderful men out there; if you want to maximize the number of great men available to choose from, race is criteria that it would be wise to discard. This is not a statement of judgment or a statement of blame: it is a statement of fact.

Will there be people who see such a statement as “BM-bashing”? Sure. Will there be people who will decide that women who articulate such considerations must be “desperate”? Probably. But to my mind, desperation is a fear response, and nothing is more desperate than someone who refrains from speaking what she knows is true because she is afraid that people will call her false names and think false things of her. I know who I am. I know what my motivations are. I know that I am not an angry or embittered person, and that I have no interest in bashing anyone.

Therefore, I sometimes discuss BM here: because BW who date and marry interracially are constantly confronted with the question of whythey are not with a BM (see my prior post, “Questions and Answers.”) To simply answer honestly “because I met this non-BM and fell in love with him” is rarely satisfactory to questioners, who will take any inclination to ignore them as a sign that you have been intimidated into silence by “shame” over your “desperate” choice. As a haven for sisters who are attracted to all kinds of men—and who refuse to be controlled by the fear of rejection, or the fear of being called a “sell-out,” or on the basis of any other fear—I am more than happy to provide a forum for us all to express our own reasons for our choices: because ultimately, it is all about us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Questions and Answers

Halima and Evia have recently blogged on the importance of sisters "spreading the word" to each other about the world of options available to us, and the crucial importance of empowering ourselves to go after those options as the birthright they are.

I want to address a related topic, for those sisters who have already stepped out to exercise their options, only to find themselves faced with the stern disapproval of not only strangers, but sometimes their nearest and dearest.

I come from a family that has always had tremendous racial pride, but has also put the well-being and happiness of the family above all else--so while they were somewhat surprised by my interracial relationship, their ultimate concern was whether I was being treated as I deserved. Once they were reassured on that score, they were were as happy for me as my fiance and I are happy together.

I know some sisters don't have it that easy, and must cope with family, friends, and acquaintaces who are challenging, unsupportive, and even hostile to their relationships. Any relationship requires nurturing, and healthy communities invest in healthy relationships, which are the foundation of a thriving and ascendant people. It's a shame that instead of being supported in their positive choices, from which all around them will also reap the positive benefits, too many sisters instead face isolation, scorn, and stereotypical questions like these:

1. I thought you were "pro-black"?

While the people who raise such questions rarely define what they mean by being "pro-black"--other than either being with a black men or being alone--for me, the response to such a query would be fairly straightforward: I was born black, I will die black, and I will live every day in between black. I love my blackness and I love black people--indeed, I love humanity, with all it's flaws and foibles. There is no contridiction between loving my black self and loving a smart, funny, confident, sexy, honest, strong and compassionate white man. It is because I love myself that I recognized that the quality of this man and the love we share are a crucial component of building the life that I want and deserve.

2. Don't you feel like you're betraying your ancestors?

To me, this question has never made anymore sense than asking "aren't you betraying all the women who've been raped and beaten by men when you date men?" I am a heterosexual woman and I am attracted to men--I don't somehow "honor" women who have been victimized by rapists, abusers and murderers by shunning good men who treat me well. In the same way, I do not somehow "honor" my black ancestors who suffered through slavery and discrimination by shunning good white people--and yes, they exist.

Additionally, this question is rooted in a mentality that views racism as an evil that is simply inflicted on blacks by whites. It does not acknowledge the role that black people can play in inflicting racist discrimination on each other--in particular, the way in which DBRBM openly denigrate, abuse, and discriminate against BW based on their race and sex. Would it be reasonable for me to judge all black men based on the discriminatory acts of DBRBM?

3. Can he really understand you?

Better than anyone ever has. Just as in any couple, we have differences as well as sharing commonalities. I personally could not be with a man who was not empathetic. I know that it is certainly possible for a white person to be in a relationship with a black person--perhaps even to "love" a black individual--while still being racist. I couldn't be with such a person, anymore than I could be with a BM who hated my skin, my hair, my features. I've never been with a man who has been through exactly what I have been through--that would be impossible. Luckily, a person doesn't have to have had your experiences to be able to relate to them, and to understand your struggles and triumphs.

4. Couldn't you find a black man?

Probably--but I didn't. I found this man, and instead of rejecting him in the hope that I might find a black Mr. Right someday, I decided to live my life for today. It has not been my experience that incredible people with whom you experience intense chemistry pass through your life on such a regular basis that walking away from makes sense. Life is short.

5. What if all of us started dating white? Wouldn't black people disappear?

Considering that black people in Africa and throughout the diaspora, significantly outnumber white people, it seems unlikely that interracial mating between blacks and whites could result in the disappearance of black people; if it could, we would have disappeared a long time ago, since miscegenation has been going on since the concept of "races" first evolved. It seems that the greater danger to the our community here is the growing numbers of BW who are living their lives entirely alone.

Obviously, there are usually no "right" answers to such questions for the people asking them because they oppose interracial relationships for BW, and perceive a danger in them that they don't perceive, say, in BW suffering in bad relationships with BM or no relationships at all. I don't think for a second that a sister owes an explanation to such people; but part of the purpose of questions like these, whether the person asking is conscious of such purpose or not, is to intimidate. Whether we choose to answer them or not, all that matters is that our responses reflect our own confidence in, and happiness with, our choices. Nothing will help "break more sisters out of jail" than seeing the joy and serenity that love and freedom brings to a well-lived life!

As a sidenote, everybody check out "More Black Women Consider 'Dating Out'" Evia, Roslyn Holcomb, and the role of blogs in encouraging sisters to expand their options are all prominently featured!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Role of Narrative

Self-narratives--the stories that we tell ourselves about our lives that connect personally significant events in the past with our present and future experiences--are a crucial factor in our ability to shape our direction in life, and enable us to achive the goals that we have identified as important and valuable for ourselves. Such narratives--ranging from the story of how our parents met to our first day of school to the senior prom--shape our perception of the world in which we live, and shape our responses to the people that we encounter, as well as shaping our sense of identity.

Perhaps most importantly, the stories we tell ourselves about our lives shape our perceived self-efficacy: our belief about our capacity to achieve, perform, and exercise influence over the events that affect our lives and the lives of others.

Self-efficacy is not only experienced on an individual level--it is also experienced collectively. Entire groups often share a perceived self-efficacy--or, as in the case of many black Americans, a lack thereof. Black Americans have been encouraged to view themselves as a monolith: a collective beset by crime, poverty, immorality, and failure. Any black individual or group of individuals who reject this mentality are subject to mockery for refusing to face "reality," which we are informed repeatedly consists of little more than a whole cloth of pathology--exceptions to the rule purportedly only serve to further prove it.

For black women, the narrative that we are fed combines heavy doses of self-flagellation and unending obligation, and always circles back to the same sad conclusion: we are always somehow "lagging behind." We used to be lazy and welfare dependant; now we are overworked spinsters, robbing black men of the jobs and opportunities that rightly belong to them. Our dark skin, full lips and and curvaceous figures used to be revolting; now that other women openly covet these features, we are simply all obese. We are both failing in our responsibility to unstintingly support the "brothas" in their (of course) infinitely more important and more difficult struggles, and simultaneously enabling those same "brothas" in dysfunction, by embracing thuggery and irresponsible babydaddyhood. As Alice Walker noted in her book of essays, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens:

During the sixties my own work was often dismissed by black reviewers "becuase of my life style," a euphemism for my interracial marriage. At black literature conferences it would be examined fleetingly if at all, in light of this "traitorous" union, by critics who were themselves interracially married, and who, moreover, hung on every word from Richard Wright, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, John A. Williams, and LeRoi Jones (to name a few) all of whom were at some time in their lives interracially connected, either legally or in more casual ways. Clearly it was not interracialism itself that bothered the critics, but that I, a black woman, had dared to exercise the same prerogative as they. While it is fine for black men to embrace other black men, black women, white women and white men in intimate relationships, the black woman, to be accepted as a black woman must prefer being alone to the risk of enjoying "the wrong choice." This means, I think, what the first dismissal meant: that I am a black woman. Something is always wrong with us.

Many visitors to other blogs, who see the terms "mammy" or "mule" used to describe the self-negating black women who have wholeheartedly embraced the "something is always wrong with us" narrative, find such usages offensive--but what is a mammy but someone who places her master's needs above her own? What is a mule but a beast of burden, who staggers to support others as her own spirit flags? These are not pejoratives, they are descriptors. And as with any form of oppression, BW are restricted to mammy/mulehood not through explicit force, but through the perpetuation of self-destructive narratives, repeating loops of negative reinforcement in which BW tell themselves that they have no choice but to accept less than the best in life, that they are cursed to "lag behind," that to see otherwise is to be "unrealistic."

Because the mammy/mule/DBR/"crisis" narrative is not merely a matter of optimism vs. pessimism, of seeing the glass half full or half empty. It is a matter of what you will dare to do with your life. It is matter of what you believe is possible. It is a matter of whether you can even conceive of change--because if you cannot first see within yourself the capacity to be better and have better, you stay stuck. "Failure" and "pathology" become self-fulfilling prophesies.

Sound familiar?